Research on immigrant communities has shown that age of first exposure to a language is strongly correlated with the learner's ultimate attainment in pronunciation. Flege's Speech Learning Model, which hypothesizes a relationship between the foreign accent of late learners and their ability to perceive non-native phonetic contrasts, is one attempt to explain this phenomenon. However, few studies have compared the perception and pronunciation of sounds directly, and there is a paucity of research on age and pronunciation in formal learning environments The present study focussed on the relationship between Age of Learning and the perception and pronunciation of English vowels in an EFL context. The participants were 32 non-native speakers from the American University in Cairo's English Language Institute and Freshman Writing Program, and 8 native-speaking controls. They were given a perceptual discrimination task that tested their ability to distinguish English-English and English-Arabic vowel contrasts, and a pronunciation task, consisting of a sentence and seven vowels, which were rated by five American native speakers. The participants' age of first exposure to English by a native-speaking teacher was found to correlate significantly with their average pronunciation ratings on the sentences and three of the vowels. Early exposure was only marginally effective, however, after first grade. On the sentences and all the vowels except one, the control group outperformed all of the experimental subgroups. Early learners outperformed late learners on the English-Arabic, but not the English-English, portion of the perceptual discrimination task. Some evidence was found for the Speech Learning Model. Students who were able to distinguish between English and Arabic /re/ received higher ratings for their pronunciation of that vowel. However, the results suggest that other factors, in addition to perceptual discrimination, contribute to leaners' ultimate attainment in pronunciation


School of Humanities and Social Sciences

Date of Award


Online Submission Date


First Advisor

Amira Agameya

Committee Member 1

Amira Agameya

Committee Member 2

Paul Stevens

Committee Member 3

Leona Marsh

Document Type



72 leaves

Library of Congress Subject Heading 1

English language

Library of Congress Subject Heading 2

English language


The American University in Cairo grants authors of theses and dissertations a maximum embargo period of two years from the date of submission, upon request. After the embargo elapses, these documents are made available publicly. If you are the author of this thesis or dissertation, and would like to request an exceptional extension of the embargo period, please write to thesisadmin@aucegypt.edu

Call Number

Thesis 1999/28